What Causes My Corrosive Sweat and How Can I Counteract it?

Discussion in 'Chemistry' started by Acitnoids, Apr 29, 2012.

  1. Acitnoids Registered Senior Member

    I can place my finger on a freshly ground piece of steel and the next day a rusted impression of my fingerprint will be there. When I tried looking up this condition I found that it's not uncommon for those who play string instruments to complain about this. For me this is more than just a recreational annoyance. It's an occupational hazard as well. In shop talk we call this condition "piss finger". It's not a common trait but there are others inflicted with it. Is there a proper name for this condition? I happen to be the only employee at my shop with piss finger.
    What causes it? I've seen three unsubstantiated reasons for this but I don't know if any of them are correct.
    1) It's my body chemistry and there's nothing I can do but wipe everything down after touching it.
    2) It's my diet. I have to eat more alkaline foods even though my diet mainly consists of beer, vegetables, fish and dairy products.
    3) There's a bacterium on my body that transforms sweat into an ammonia like substance even though anti-bacterial soap and solutions do not help, they actually seem to make things worse.
    Is there a simple way to prevent this from happening, like rubbing my hands with baking soda or something? I currently wipe down everything I grind but that adds time to the jobs I am working on. I would like to bypass this extra operation if possible. Any help in better understanding this condition will be greatly appreciated.
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  3. elte Valued Senior Member

    Salt in sweat is a factor. Try often wetting your hands with water and drying them with something clean. I use a paper towel for the drying.

    I work on electronic circuits with copper wires that can get corroded by touch. That is why I do that technique, but I'm not sure how much it could help you. It seems to work at least somewhat for me.
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  5. scheherazade Northern Horse Whisperer Valued Senior Member

    I am rather curious to note that you list beer before the food items in your diet, Acitnoids.

    May I ask what amount of beer you drink in a day?
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  7. arauca Banned Banned

    Have you looked into your salt intake ? I doubt ammonia will corrode steel.
  8. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Sweat and skin are mild acids, and, as elte mentioned, salty. Add moisture and you have a formula for corroding steel. You might try talc. It would seem to apply better. If the hand washing elte suggested isn't convenient, you could try hand sanitizer, which will also help your hands stay drier.

    If you want spoof your friends, you can show that their sweat is more acidic than urine. You might be able to find a pH tester that's accurate enough.
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    How about wearing gloves?
    You can wear simple cotton gloves, or something firmer.



    At least until you figure out some other way.
  10. Acitnoids Registered Senior Member

    Thanks elte. I'll try keeping a bowl of water on my workbench to see if it helps. Running back and forth to the washroom would be impractical and time consuming.
    I don't keep records but if it averaged more than 1,400mg a day I'd be suprised. I thought the same thing about ammonia but found that it can act like a mild acid. Other than that I can't explain what the artical meant by "ammonia like substance".
    I have noticed that humid summer days corrode the steel faster than dry winter days. Why does this only affect some people? I am the only person at my shop with this problem.
    I can't because it gums up on my hands. My palms sweat profusely. I could scrap a detail if some of that talcum powder sticks to my part. I have to hold some tight tolerances so I don't want to take the chance.
    I would but it impedes my sense of touch too much. I have to constantly gage the temperature of what I'm grinding. I can't feel burrs or grit on my parts. I've tried those cotton gloves before but in a matter of hours they started to lint-up and fray. If just one cotton fiber got between my detail and chuck I'd be out of tolerance by a mile.
  11. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Then that is probably the core of the problem.

    If you are otherwise healthy, the sweating of palms can be due to anxiety/stress.

    When anxious/stressed, we sweat more, and the sweaty skin is also more conducive for electric current from the body. So if with sweaty hands one touches surfaces that can be corroded, the corrosion is more intense. (There is a more precise physical explanation for this.)

    A few things that can help:
    1. Exercise in the morning, before going to work. If you break a good sweat early in the day, then shower, chances are you will sweat less during the day.
    2. Make plain water your main source of liquid.
    3. Avoid salty foods. Meats and fish are usually prepared with a lot of salt. Ingesting a lot of salt makes sweat more salty, and thus more corrosive.
    4. Learn breath meditation to ease tension in the body, so that you'll sweat less.
    5. Find things that cause you stress and do something about them - leave home earlier so you won't be in a hurry, plan your day, improve your people skills (people problems are a great source of stress for many people).
  12. Acitnoids Registered Senior Member

    Thanks wynn. This is the kind of post I was hoping for. With all due respect I've been in the manufacturing industry for well over a decade now so you'd think I've tried things like washing my hands or wearing gloves (among others). In that time I have come across only two other people with piss finger even though everyone at my shop has known someone with it. My intention for this thread is to better understand why people like me can corrode steel faster than most other people. My hope is that this community could provide helpful information for others who, like me, tried to find information on this topic but only found guitar and homeopathic forums as resources.
    As for the contents of your post; the only suggestion that seems relevant to me is #2. I agree that sweaty hands corrode steal but, I can do that right after washing my hands. If I had to guess I'd say my metabolism has more to do with my sweaty hands than stress or anxiety. I've always been underweight. After eating my body heats up and I sweat. That's just how it's always been. As for my diet, it's sound. I eat either one big meal or two small meals a day and snack on veggies, fruit and dairy products. One can of tuna, which I eat three days a week with white mushrooms only has 180mg of sodium. Don't get me wrong, I love a sloppy burger with fries but that's a once a week thing.
    Oh, and if I come across as having poor people skills it's because I suck at writing. Always have, but I'm trying to work on that. I make an awesome first impression in real life. What I lack in confidence I make up in looks and charisma. But that's real life, not here. My inflection just doesn't come through using my limited writing style.
    Last edited: May 2, 2012
  13. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

  14. Acitnoids Registered Senior Member

    There's nothing to be sorry about, I knew that. I probably should have used those emoticons. I've been misunderstood again. :)
    That is why I said that that was the kind of post I was hoping for. Some other posts reminded me of rubbing your eye and telling someone you had something in it and they tell you; yea, your finger :) (no disrespect intended, I thank everyone who has participated so far). Also, I have a personal stake in this conversation so I wanted to address my unique circumstances compared to what you suggested.
    Thank you for that. I was looking up things like "corrosive sweat" or "why does my sweat rust steel". I've never heard of hyperhidrosis before. You've given me some fat to chew on but it does raise more questions than answers.
    Piss finger is the ability to rust steel in less than one day. Do all people with hyperhidrosis have piss finger? Do all people with piss finger have hyperhidrosis? It is only logical to assume that those with hyperhidrosis will corrode steel faster than the general population but how does that relate to piss finger? I'm going to take some time to look into this. Thanks again.
  15. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Oops. That should have been "sweaty hands."
    (So much for my blind typing skills.)
  16. Acitnoids Registered Senior Member

    O.K., I've done some lookin'
    The first things I found were two papers published in 1979 entitled "'Rusters'. The corrosive action of palmar sweat: I. Sodium chloride in sweat - II. Physical and chemical factors in palmar hyperhidrosis" Authored by Jensen O.
    Unfortunately all I could view was the abstract. This was enough for me to recognize how Jensen could demonstrate that people with hyperhidrosis can rust steel faster than the general population. However I want to highlight a sentence found in both abstracts.
    This caused a light bulb to go off. An observation I made tells me that my sweat may not be the cause of piss finger after all.
    I noticed that right after washing my hands with industrial grade soap I could touch a piece of steel and an oily impression of my fingerprint would be left behind. Apparently the emulsifier in my shops soap is not strong enough to remove my body's oil. I'll admit that I have sweaty hands and my hair will be coated in oil if I don't wash it every day so it only seemed natural for me to find out what human oil (sebum) is made of.
    41% triglycerides
    25% wax monoesters
    16% free fatty acids
    12% squalene
    6% ?
    After looking up all these substances I found that certain fatty acids can be corrosive.
    Piss finger is caused by an imbalance of certain fatty acids secreted from the sebaceous gland.
    Does this sound plausible?
    Last edited: May 19, 2012
  17. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    That doesn't sound right.

    It seems to me that the hair care products that you use, and other products, such as soap, are too strong, and you use them too often, so your skin reacts with producing even more oil (and sweat) to compensate.
    Which you then try to clean off with even more shampoo and soap, which makes things worse as it irritates the skin and the skin tries to compensate by producing even more oil and sweat.

    I see this in myself: the more frequently I wash my hair, the oilier it gets and sooner.
    I am now on a regimen of washing my hair every six or seven days, and it begins to show to be oily about four or five days after washing. I used to wash my hair more frequently, and it would get oilier sooner.

    This is even more apparent on my face: if I wash my face with the cleaning products as advised in commercials and by pharmacists, my skin is paper dry after I wash it with those products, and gets visibly oily within hours. Also, if use use skin cleaning products on my face, I am much more likely to get zits.

    What I do is that I use milder products, and less often. That means less irritation for the skin, and this means that the skin produces less oil and sweat.
    It took a while to get this regimen going, but it worked.

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